Developing Graduate Teaching Assistants
Postgraduate students who teach are a vital part of Durham’s teaching community, delivering a range of teaching activities from seminars to lab demonstration and tutorials. In this short article, we explore how the University can support GTAs to enhance their teaching practice.
GTAs must all undertake a minimum of 6 hours of mandatory teacher training before engaging in teaching. This training is provided twice/year (in October and January), tailored to the needs of each faculty and delivered by DCAD.
Beyond these standard sessions, GTAs may then opt to learn more about teaching, by taking the Gateway to Academic Practice (GAP) course, DELTA1, which leads, on successful completion, to the award of Associate Fellowship of the HEA. Around 70 GTAs per year engage in this course, with terrific feedback.
Beyond this training, how can you support someone new to teaching?
Best Practice Tips
- Make sure that they know what’s expected of them – that they’re aware of what sort of teaching they’re going to do and attend any central or departmental training which supports this in advance of the session.
- Assure them that being nervous is natural – this sometimes leads to GTAs distancing themselves from the students they interact with, so encourage them to be aware of this and try to avoid seeming aloof.
- Help them to prepare before class – early guidance on preparation will build their confidence in preparing by themselves. For example, if they will be demonstrating an experiment, make sure they’ve had the opportunity to do it in advance. Detailed lesson planning can help new teachers while they get used to teaching.
- Encourage them to share tips that helped them as a student – they have a unique perspective in that they recall far more about what helped them than older lecturers. They can use this to the students’ advantage and let students know what helped them in their studies.
- Recommend that they seek quick feedback – giving students feedback post-it notes to stick on the door before they leave is a great way to help GTAs adapt their teaching to be responsive to student needs, without putting them on the spot.
- Advise GTAs to be friendly, but maintain boundaries – they should be friendly and approachable, but not so much so that students think of them as a friend. They are after all employed to support them in a professional manner.
- Support GTAs in talking to each other – for example, organise a regular coffee with all the GTAs on your module or programme. Learning from each other’s practice is a good way to evolve their teaching. If somebody sounds like they’re doing something interesting in the classroom, encourage others to sit in and watch.
Resources and Further Reading
A useful blog can be found here.
Butcher, C., Davies, C. and Highton, M. (2006) Designing Learning. London, Routledge.
Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshal, S. (eds.) (2008) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 3rd Ed. London, Kogan Page.